Copyright by Bob Rogers.
I recently had my annual check-up with my eye doctor. She said that my left eye needed a stronger prescription. The goal is 20/20 vision, so I got new contact lenses and eyeglasses. With the onset of the year 2020, I expect we may hear many people talk about having a “2020 Vision.”
One of the most popular verses in the Bible about vision is the promise of Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” While we may only see a sea of sorrow around us, in this verse God says that He sees hope over the horizon– a seashore where we will safely land. Knowing this future is coming gives us hope to hang on.
However, there is a danger of taking this verse out of context. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus promising to hand out candy-coated lives without consequences. He is a holy God calling us to repentance. Notice that after the promise of “a future and hope” in verse 11, we read some requirements for its fulfillment in verses 12-14. The Lord says to call on Him in prayer, and He says to seek God “with all your heart,” and then you will find God and He will “end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” Thus, the vision is for those who seek out God and follow Him. In fact, Jeremiah 44:27 warns those who rebel against God that the Lord will be “watching over them for harm, not for good,” the exact opposite of Jeremiah 29:11.
In addition, the first part of this chapter gives a broader perspective to the vision of verse 11. God is not a quick-stop dispenser of immediate happiness; He seeks faithful followers who run the race of faith like a marathon, not a sprint. Notice that the earlier verses in Jeremiah 29 say that they would be going into exile in Babylon for 70 years—so long, in fact, that God told them to settle down in that new place, for they would be there a long time. Yet after telling them that the immediate future looked bleak, God said that He had plans for a hope-filled future! The same God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt after 400 years would rescue them from exile in Babylon after 70 years, and He will rescue you and me at the right time.
Don’t let this bigger picture of Jeremiah 29:11 leave you feeling in the dark. Instead, throw open the windows of your heart and mind to the light of a greater vision of what it means. It means much more than a surface-level promise for fleeting fun—it is a deep, abiding promise for an eternal faith in the Eternal God who has promised eternal life through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). That is “a future and a hope” worth waiting for and living for, in 2020 and beyond
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Motivational author Jim Collins coined the term “BHAG” (BEE-hag), or “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal” to inspire businesses to have a great vision. For example, the BHAG of Microsoft was, “A computer on every desk in every home.” The BHAG of Ford was “democratize the automobile.”
In Romans 15:20, the apostle Paul stated his ambition: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” In fact, Paul had a BHAG to accomplish it:
Bold. In verse 15, Paul comments that he had written them boldly. In Ephesians 6:19, he asks the Ephesians to pray for him to be a bold preacher. He was bold. He boldly stood before Greek philosophers, Roman officials, and hostile Jewish synagogues all over his world to proclaim Jesus. Do you have a bold goal for Jesus?
Holy. In verse 16, Paul desires to be “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Sanctified means to be holy (set apart) to God. A bold goal does no good if it’s not a godly goal. Repeatedly in Leviticus, God said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 20:8, etc.)
Acceptable. Also in verse 16, Paul says his ministry is “an offering acceptable to God.” Likewise in Romans 12:1, Paul urges Christians to offer themselves as living sacrifices, “holy and acceptable to God.” It matters not if our goals are acceptable to people, but it makes all the difference if they are pleasing to God. Are your ambitions acceptable and pleasing to God?
God-driven. In verses 17-19 Paul talks about God, not about himself. He speaks of his pride in Christ, not in himself; he says he doesn’t have anything to speak about except what Christ has done. Martin Niemoller was a German pastor who endured concentration camps in World War II. Two newspaper reporters went to hear him speak when he came to America, but they were disappointed. One said to the other, “Six years in a Nazi camp, and all he has to talk about is Jesus Christ.” May they say the same about you and me!
William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement, said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” What is your BHAG for God?
Article copyright by Brian A. Williamson
(Brian A. Williamson is a hospital chaplain and former pastor in Mississippi. He shares the following reflection on a funeral and on a hospital visit he made with a dying patient, which I found thought-provoking. He follows the reflection with a poem. Feel free to share your comments below.)
I recently attended the funeral of my dear friend Jack’s beloved wife of more than 30 years—Paula. Paula, too, was a close friend of mine, but not like Jack. I’ve told people many times about Jack’s faithful service as a devoted deacon of the first church I served as pastor. Being with Jack in this setting was different… Many times before Jack and I sat with others in a funeral setting, but usually he was the one walking around and ministering to others in the room. He was clearly uncomfortable on this occasion with all the attention he was receiving by those coming to pay their respects and offer condolences—a mark of an incredibly humble man. On this day, I saw no tears fall from his eyes while I marveled at his faith—he clearly knew that his wife’s final hope was realized.
Paula’s casket was beautiful; the drape of orchids, hydrangea, and white with light blue roses was the prettiest I’d ever seen on a casket. The colors of the flowers provided the eyes with a visual symphony in perfect pitch…and all of this matched the colors of the sanctuary of that little country church beautifully; and I thought, “Paula would smile if she could see all of this…” And then it hit me—I wonder, “what if she can?” I looked to and fro amongst all us mourners and supporters, contemplating this thought with a different curiosity than ever before. I thought, she’d cry at her own funeral—there were people everywhere sitting with this family, to support them and mourn with them over the loss of “the Queen of Banana Pudding” as she is known in the church. Paula isn’t used to this much attention, and I imagine she’d be uncomfortable with all this, too. Hmmm… I wonder, “What do dead people see?”
Flashback—I visited a terminal cancer patient in the hospital months ago who told me her only prayer request since being given a terminal diagnosis was to ask God to let her live long enough to see her first grandchild being born. Tearfully, she acknowledged the looming reality that she was dying faster than her daughter’s pregnancy was progressing. Several family members sat somberly with this woman as she lamented her death and God’s flat denial of her request. “Why would God take this from me?” she asked, seeming to genuinely hope that I had a great answer… But, I didn’t. Then she asked, “Do you think God will let me see my granddaughter’s birth even though I’m dead?”
I’d never considered a question the likes of this one before. Is it answerable? I pondered what it might be like once dead; is there Scripture to support such a notion? As I pondered the question further, her family began to offer her spiritual condolences… “Everything’s gonna be ok, why you won’t even care about us…things will be so beautiful in heaven that you won’t even think about us” said one man in a wheelchair. Another chimed in, “That’s right—you’ll just be worshipping the Lord, and you’ll be so consumed by his majesty that you’ll forget about us altogether…” Still another, “When you get to heaven, your sense of time will be like a warp or something; you won’t even think of being in a different place cause when you blink, we’ll all be there with you.” (Really? I thought…you gotta be kiddin’ me!) I thought more about the woman’s question…it was simple…yes or no…no other explanation needed.
“YES” I said; and the room fell quiet instantly, as if someone had thrown open the hatch in space and the vacuum sucked all the wind and words out of the room. My eyes were locked into the dying woman’s eyes as I had come to this conclusion, communicating my sincere faith in my response. She locked her eyes on mine as seconds passed in slow motion—she was processing. She looked interested and hopeful, and I repeated, “Yes. I do think that God will allow you to see the birth of your granddaughter even though you are dead.”
The others in the room leaned back as if lightning was about to strike me as God “took me out” for such heresy. I continued with my thoughts out loud: “It seems to me that God understands the beauty of birth, for God created it; and, God knows the love you have for your daughter as well as your love for the unborn child. If God formed this life and longs for her to spring from her mother’s womb, and I believe that you believe it is so; then, I’m certain that his love for you would not deny you the joy of such an anticipated event that is overflowing with hope and love from you. Because of his love, I believe he will allow you to see what He will see on that blessed day. Even though you will be dead, you will be alive by faith. You’re death won’t make you blind—you will still see. I don’t know how it will work, but I believe it will be so. You and your family will celebrate your granddaughter’s birth together—of this, I have no doubt.”
She held her breath for in silence; then, she believed and exhaled. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. Her mourning tears became happy tears, and the anticipation of the new birth again gave her hope. No one had ever considered the possibility that God had already granted this grieving woman’s prayer request because she continued to die; but, God had.
Though “in Adam” we all die; yet, “in Christ” we all live! In Christ we live and move [and hope] and have our being! In Christ, this woman will live to see the birth of her prized and much-anticipated grandchild! “Dead, and yet I see!” will be her anthem on that day. I can’t explain how it will work or what it will be like, I only know that is the truth.
Dead and yet I see
By: Chaplain Brian Williamson
I’m dead and yet I see, having crossed over to Promised Land,
‘Tis my home now, though it’s hard for you to understand.
Am I dead? Yes…and yet I see, for by my faith I’ve moved along,
Joyfully straining to be happy in life, while longing what lies beyond.
Now more than ever, by my hope in Christ, I see
That painful things in life make sense in eternity.
Dead, but now I see. I know you don’t understand,
But my life isn’t over, and I still see you from Glory Land.
God knew my love for you; and though we now live separately,
I’m closer than you think, beloved; for though I’m dead, yet I see.
Our God gives us hope through the promises contained in Scripture, and by faith in Him, I believe that he would never remove our love for others—if he did, He doesn’t understand.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Five leaders of the Bible come to mind as role models for us: Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Paul.
Abraham was willing to take risks. He was told to go to a land the Lord would show him. Are you willing to take the risk to go where you’ve never gone before, for the good of those you serve and lead?
Moses was willing to stand alone on his convictions against Pharaoh and later against his own fellow Israelites when they rebelled against the Lord. Are you?
David was willing to face a giant. Are you ready to take on giant tasks?
Peter was willing to admit his mistakes and change, after denying the Lord and after denying fellowship with Gentiles. That’s an important quality in leaders to be willing to admit when we are wrong and change.
Paul was able to get a vision and follow it. When he saw a vision of a man of Macedonia saying, “Come over here and help us,” Paul took the gospel into the continent of Europe for the first time. Do you, like Paul, have a vision for your work, and see the big picture?
As helpful as these five role models are, I have not mentioned the greatest example: Jesus Christ. Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself for the good of others. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). If you and I will follow the example of Jesus, and be willing to sacrifice our own desires and put others before ourselves, then God will bless our leadership. After all, Jesus knows better than anybody, that life can be as tough as nails.
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.
We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:
I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)
People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)
Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!
III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)
Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”